Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Troublesome Trio: Articles in the English Language

The word ‘the’ is the most commonly used word in the English language. We don’t give it a second thought; it’s there, like the air we breathe or the water we drink. Actually, it’s not really a word like ‘butter’ or ‘table’, since it can not even stand on its own two feet. If a ‘the’ walked through the door, you wouldn’t know what you were dealing with. At least with a ‘table’ or a ‘chair’, you know where you stand, but a ‘the’? You’d be waiting for the rest of the retinue to appear before you could make sense of the visitor.

The ‘the’, together with the ‘a’ and the ‘an’ make up the articles of the English language. Even though they are useless on their own, these little ‘function words’ pretty much ‘determine’ what people are talking about. If my husband came in and said ‘A guy just hit a car’ it might elicit a slight shoulder shrug, but if he said: ‘A guy just hit the car’, I would drop whatever I was doing and run outside to assess the damage. Read more...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Are all Recipients of Public Pensions Crooks and Parasites?

It’s open season on (public) pensioners. The moronic consensus is that municipalities and states are going belly up because they over-committed to paying out fat pensions to their employees. Detroit is ground zero. The bankruptcy judge there has decided that the city does NOT have to honor its contracts with its retired employees. These folks will have to line up along with everyone else owed money by Detroit, i.e. probably get practically nothing. These are people whose average pension income, were it honored, would be $18,000 per year! Woopty doo!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

David and Goliath: The Power of the People

In a small corner of this big country, there is a battle going on. Unless you live in New England, you probably haven’t heard about this place, but the locals call it ‘the North Country’, a very rural and densely forested part of Northern New Hampshire. It is sparsely inhabited and because of its poverty level it gets federal assistance, like many Indian reservations. Mobile homes are aplenty and unemployment is high as the North Country’s traditional industries – paper mills and other wood products manufacturing – have largely collapsed.

For the past few years, this beautiful area has been the battleground for the establishment of a huge high-voltage transmission route, given the name "Northern Pass". The plan is to construct more than 1,100 visually jarring steel towers up to 155 feet tall through a 180-mile swath of the state in order to reach lucrative energy markets in Southern New England. Read more...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Joseph Tainter: 'The Collapse of Complex Societies.' Part Two

4. Are Science, Technology and Innovation our Ace in the Hole?

Today, most people believe that continued growth is the solution. The near-consensus is that it is possible to overcome the limits to increasing complexity through technological innovation, which is unlimited.

Tainter compares and contrast two views of sustainability in our future:

1. One is associated with names such as Jared Diamond. It argues that staying the present course will result in collapse, due to scarcity of environmental resources. This is the Malthusian perspective, or what I call the “Easter Island Model.”

 2. On the other side are the technological optimists, who reject Malthusianism and other doomsday scenarios. They believe in the infinite substitutability of new types of energy. Innovation is the key. As long as Research and Development are funded sufficiently, progress will continue. Read more...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Joseph Tainter: 'The Collapse of Complex Societies', Part One

Preface: This is not a mere a summary of Tainter’s work. I add my own examples and interpretations. I do this especially at the end, where I suggest some straight-forward solutions with which Tainter may not agree.

Joseph Tainter is an anthropologist and historian who teaches at Utah State University. In 1988, he published an important and disturbing book, The Collapse of Complex Societies. Since then, he has amplified his thesis, making it even more compelling two and a half decades later. In this essay, I review a brilliant lecture he gave at Northwestern University on December 10, 2010. This lecture can be accessed on You Tube at 'Collapse of Complex Societies by Dr. Joseph Tainter'

1. Thesis:

Tainter brings to mind another doomsday prophet - Jared Diamond. That UCLA geographer’s thesis is well-known: In his 2005 book How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed , he proposes a neo-Malthusian analogy between the collapse of the Easter Islands and the possible imminent collapse of humanity. Read more...